We find a frightening text in 2 Thess 2:3–12: “Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God…. And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
Though frightening, this text is not meant to be terrifying, paralyzing. Nor is it meant to invite wild speculations. For St. Paul prefaces the text with this caution about ‘predictions’: “Now, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we be you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come” (2 Thess 2:1-2).
The text concerns the “End Times,” and the study of that falls under what theologians call “Eschatology”. There are two extremes one wants to avoid in Eschatology. Apocalypticism is the extreme of thinking that the texts are very easy to interpret and the future easy to predict. Rationalism is the extreme of thinking that the texts do not pertain to the future but are merely expressive of the ancient biblical writer’s “experience”. Catholic Eschatology avoids both extremes.
The topic I broach with St. Paul is the Antichrist. This text, some texts from the Gospels, some lines in the Epistles of St. John, and some texts in Daniel and in Revelation are the source for Christian reflection on this “Man of Sin,” commonly referred to in tradition as The Antichrist. Who is he? How will we know him?
The Antichrist is a human being, not a demon. Yet, it is believed that he will be perfectly possessed by Satan. Perfect possession does not necessarily look frightful – like the movie “The Exorcist.” Rather, the harmony of wills – the man’s will and Satan’s will – makes the result look
When will this man appear? Two signs are linked with his appearance. The first sign is that the Gospel shall have been preached to the ends of the earth. Second, there must be a large scale “falling away” from the faith. That is, there must first be a massive apostasy in the Church. They will have itching ears, not wanting to hear the solid truth of faith. Rather, they will run after pseudo teachers who deny what the Apostles handed on. After many fall away from the truth of the faith, then this man will appear.
He will be associated with the Temple. Which Temple? Theologians wrestled with this and achieved a consensus: Not the Temple of the Church but the Temple of Judaism. However, as Daniel relates, this man will not be religious. He will not recognize the God of his fathers. Rather, he will put himself forth as God. Hence, he will be religious only in appearance. At some point, he will work wonders. He will not work miracles in the proper sense of the term. Rather, he will perform wonders by magic. (A miracle is by definition a work of God who controls nature. A wonder is something inexplicable and astounding. The latter can be accomplished by demons, who can wield the natural forces of the world to achieve startling results – when permitted by God.) God will allow this wonder working so that those who love a lie and hate truth will be deceived by this false prophet. Being deceived they will follow him. The Antichrist will persecute the true religion mercilessly. The goal of Antichrist will be the total destruction of the one true religion that Christ inaugurated at his first coming. Yet, as God has promised, this Antichrist, though he achieve many victories in battle, will ultimately be defeated. God will not abandon his Church, but she shall prevail even against the jaws of hell.
Now, here’s a difficulty. If the text of St. Paul is really about the future, then how can it mean anything to those who do not exist in the End Times? The answer to this lies in what can be called Typological Analogy or, better, Analogical Typology. I shall take this topic up next.